By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
THE government’s commitment to effective rehabilitation and public safety will be put to the test when the Parole Re-entry Steering Committee delivers its recommendations for a parole system and the reintegration of past offenders into Bahamian society, according to committee Co-chair retired Anglican Archbishop Drexel Gomez.
Archbishop Gomez told The Tribune yesterday that the 18-member committee was on track to submit its report to Cabinet by the end of the first week in October after a six-month timeline of widespread research and consultation.
He added that the committee expects to complete legislation for the parole system in a week.
“It’s been very interesting so far,” he said, “it’s just a matter of pulling it together, and just a matter of what the government will do. It’s all in favour of rehabilitation and outlining how it can be done and it will involve certain changes. The government will have to spend a little more money employing people, but the biggest challenge will be the general public, to create the climate in which to try to help people.”
Archbishop Gomez added: “It’s certainly going to involve some further expenditure if you really want to do it and do it properly. It’s about are we interested in public safety and are we interested in giving people a chance to change and given the number of young people in the place, you got to create a (parole) system.”
The committee is part of the government’s overarching strategy to address the challenges of crime in the Bahamas through its Citizens Security and Justice Programme, financed by a $20 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank.
The Ministry of National Security projects that 95 per cent of incarcerated criminals are expected to re-enter society over the next ten years, with statistics indicating that 45 per cent of persons housed at the Bahamas Department of Correctional Services (BDCS) are on remand.
Yesterday, Archbishop Gomez remarked that it was alarming to see the number of young men incarcerated at the BDCS.
Recommendations will feature physical upgrades to the correctional facility as well as suggestions on staff guidelines and procedures, according to Archbishop Gomez, who acknowledged that the culture and attitudes of guards should be routinely addressed.
“If you’re talking about rehabilitation, you have to have a physical environment that is conducive to that,” he said. “Since the government changed the name from prison to department of corrections there has been a shift towards creating that environment. The whole basis is making rehabilitation the main work, the former emphasis was on punitive.
“It cannot be compelled but at least the whole direction of the institution will be toward rehabilitation and reform. It’s a work in progress (staff attitudes), can’t do that overnight that is a fundamental issue that has to be addressed on an ongoing basis.
“It’s not an overnight method, I think if all hands are on deck I think there will be a positive effect. In the final analysis its is a matter of safety, we have a very strong recidivism rate and a good parole system will have a good impact on that.”